Thank you everybody! We did it. Once Upon A Saga is now successful as we have reached the Maldives. Charles Veley wrote me: “Congratulations!! Enjoy a new country for the last time!!” Harry Mitsidis wrote me: “Fantastic man!!! Soon you’ll be home where you belong! You did it my friend! You’re a stat and an inspiration to all.” Those two men are arguably the most traveled people in the world.
I was greeted at Male Sea Port by Mr. Lars Andersen, CEO of Ross Energy, Gitte (Lars' wife), Gunnar Garfors (traveler extraordinaire), Mr. Fariu and many more from Maldives State Shipping, and an entourage from Port Security. Photo by Mike Douglas.
The moment before every country in the world had been reached completely without flying. Photo by Gunnar Garfors.
I’m mentally exhausted. I will need time to understand that it is “over”. I will need to reflect on the past 3,512 days of my life. What have we really accomplished? What has this done to me? What are the key takeaways? I’m receiving MANY messages, congratulatory wishes, and the interviews are nonstop. We did it people. This has been a collaborative effort between people in every country of the world. People have taken part in small and large ways. History has been made. Is it significant? Time will tell. I currently find time to be a luxury which I do not have. IT IS HECTIC. I’m surrounded by loved ones and friends. I’m at a nice resort called OBLU Xperience Ailafushi. There is currently no lack of attention. It is all a bit much. Thank you all though. And yes, we will be returning to Denmark by land and sea. To be continued.
“The Pearl of the Orient” already sounds pretty good! And the country just so happens to be able to carry it. My goodness a lot has happened in a week!! I mean A LOT!! Sri Lanka is a ridiculously happening place where you cannot stand on a street corner for ten minutes without leaving with a story. I love it!! People are very polite, very helpful, and very kind. I feel safe wherever I go and I’m hungry to explore more.
Mike arrived - again. And were both impressed with Colombo.
This week has however been somewhat restricted as Mike and I have a lot of work to do ahead of the much-anticipated arrival to the Maldives next week. Do you remember Mike? Mike Douglas is a Canadian award-winning filmmaker, he’s also a professional athlete and a lot more. We’ve been working on a documentary since 2019, which was initiated by Salomon, a French sports equipment manufacturing company founded in France back in 1947. I’ve been a “Salomon Ambassador” since sometime last year. The film project has grown and is now looking to become a full feature film which may very well end up on a major streaming service. So that’s exciting. Mike has joined me in the Pacific three times and flew in to capture more now while in Sri Lanka. A great country to capture lots of good shots.
This was our serenading tea salesman. And we learned a lot about tea too.
On our first day together in Colombo we sat out to get some lunch and walk the streets a bit. I needed a haircut and Mike needs some footage of trivial stuff so we turned into a small hole in the wall kind of place. The haircut was meticulous and was followed by a head massage. I’ve experienced that in other countries but this massage was almost an event and included my arms, my back, and my chest! It went on for much longer than expected and far longer than the haircut itself. Now Mike wants a haircut too. We then hit the streets again covering various shots and eventually opted to get into a tuktuk for a guided tour of some of Colombo’s landmark sites. Colombo is really an impressive city and it has a great mix of new and old. At one point we stopped at a factory outlet for Tea Gate Ceylon. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea. Inside the outlet I was recognized by the staff from a Nas Daily video about me and the Saga from 2021. It has been seen tens of millions of times. That made the visit a lot more fun and the nice fellow who explained the different tea varieties for us (very interesting) turned out to be a very talented singer and serenaded for us in a private session. Just wow! Lots of kindness again. Ninety minutes later I had a python snake around my neck! Unrelated of course. Mike and I were catching some shots near sunset on the water front. We came across a snake charmer with a cobra and a python. Show me a day in Sri Lanka where nothing happens and I’ll be amazed.
Not the only snake charmer I've come across in Sri Lanka. Children were running about barefooted near the snakes of this one.
As some small boats play important parts of the Sagas hardship, or at times solutions, Mike wanted to capture some footage of me on a small boat. We decided to try our luck at a small laguna called Fishery Harbour and caught a tuktuk to get there. Meals and transport rarely amount to more than USD 2-3. We found a small fisherman’s village and tried to make our way to the water. But we were stopped by someone who could have been a village elder? He invited us to follow him to a younger man’s home where we explained what we wanted. Ten minutes later we were filming while at sea in a small boat. Sri Lankans have been incredibly accommodating to our every request and it has made many things much easier than what we thought.
When Mike is with me, he’s the boss and I follow his plans. Mike is professional and knows what he wants. The films budget covers meals, transportation, and accommodation, and I become a bit of a passenger / actor within my own life. We work well together and I’m enjoying the process. At times it’s strange trying to behave natural while there’s a camera in my face but it’s also amazing what you can get used to. Mike needs city shots, nature shots, transport shots, and Sri Lanka can certainly deliver. Tuktuks, taxis, buses, trains - you’ve got it! After a few days we boarded the famous “blue train” and headed up into the mountains. First stop: Sigiriya.
Sigiriya straight ahead.
Do you remember the Savagars! That’s my second family, a family which offered to host me for four days in Hong Kong but ended up having me for five months when the pandemic broke out. A great family of four and we have obviously stayed in touch. They recently sent me a photo from Sigiriya. In recent years I’ve sailed with many Sri Lankan seafarers and I’ve often been told to visit Sigiriya. As such I was delighted when I heard it was in Mikes plans to go there. It’s sometimes called “the eighth wonder of the world”, and it’s a really good showcase for Sri Lankas beauty, culture, and history.
Mike photographing monks on top of Sigiriya.
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress selected by King Kashyapa (AD 477–495) for his new capital. He built his palace on top of the massive rock and decorated its sides with colorful frescoes. The area around it has been inhabited for some 5,000 years and continues to hold significance for Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture today which was easily observable. Sigiriya is considered to be one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium, with its very elaborate and imaginative site plan and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It was pretty crowded as you might expect - but well worth the visit.
Great way to quiet people down. There were plenty of monkeys around Sigiriya too.
Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. Buddhism has been practiced in Sri Lanka for 2,269 years and is the largest religion in the country.
We have spent a tremendous amount of time in transport and have overall covered relatively little distance. It has been fun to see Mike's take on what my life has been for many years. Some of these Sri Lankan drivers are CRAZY! :)
I really can’t cover everything we’ve seen and done. We’ve been busy and very productive. But I really should write a little about our 24 hours in Kandy. I found the city to be really nice and interesting. Kandy dates back more than 600 years and is known as the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka. When the British empire took over in 1815 it ended over 2,500 years of Sinhalese monarchs.
Sacred City of Kandy
It’s a hectic city 500m (1,600ft) up into the mountains, and it's a place where something always seems to be going on. I really liked Kandy and it was apparent that there is much to do and see. However, we had a schedule to follow and Kandy was just a brief stopover on our way to Ella. The following day our train left at 11:00am which gave us a chance to take a very quick look at the Sacred City of Kandy in the morning. It is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. I was impressed and lots can be said but the story I’ll share was when Mike and I separated for ten minutes. I was exploring the area while Mike was taking in the views near a walkway. When I returned to Mike I saw a chained elephant being lead by and Mike told of a tourist woman who almost as in a trance began to run toward the elephant with her arms wide open as if to give it a hug?!? Sri Lankans on all sides were screaming “NOOOOOO!” and got her to safety. Most of us know elephants as cute or majestic. In the village Mike and I stayed at near Sigiriya a wild elephant trampled a local to death the day before we arrived. Anyway, I left Mike for ten minutes and he had a story like that! Sri Lanka feels like real travel!!
I found it almost embarrassing to observe western tourists hunt for social media posts. Hanging on the side of the train for what? Some people would have been better served observing Sri Lankas beautiful landscape as the train passed through it.
There he is again with his camera. Never a break.
The train to Ella took us up above 1,900m (6,200ft) past lots of mountains, valleys and tea fields. In Ella we stayed at “Poomaz Peace Palace” and Pooma comes highly recommended - by us too. Ella is at about 1,000m (3,300ft) of elevation and was our setting for some hiking and trail running shots. Physical activity has been a huge part of my mental wellbeing but very rarely has it been filmed. Now it certainly has and Mike caught some amazing footage!! I found the "downtown" of Ella to be the kind of place with many tourist shops, bars, restaurants, and young people with tattoos. Plenty of guys in tank tops and women with dreadlocks. Loud music too. It kind of felt like an after ski region without the snow. Ella is however a beautiful spot surrounded by mountains and tea fields. The town gets its electricity from a hydroelectric power station and I got the sense that much of Sri Lanka is powered as such.
Good to be together with Mike again. And definitely good to have the company.
These sweet tea harvesters waved us over to take photos. Then asked for money. Lots of opportunism in Sri Lanka. And lots of kindness too. The women didn't ask for much and were happy to show how they pluck the leaves.
On the morning we left Ella I gained two good stories about Sri Lankan kindness. The first one occurred while Mike and I were waiting at the station for the train to arrive. All of a sudden Pooma came towards us on the platform with a big smile and my Garmin watch in his hand. “I believe this is yours?” Indeed, it was and I would have been sad to have lost it. Pooma went the extra distance to get it back to me. The second story took place on the train. We bought some samosas from a vendor and Mike had a soft drink. I wanted tea but the vendor did not have it so I opted not to drink anything. Then five minutes later the vendor reappeared with a cup of tea and a smile for me?! Where he got it from, I do not know? But he went the extra distance to accommodate me. I like those stories because they say a lot about the Sri Lanka I have come to know in a few days. There is much beauty in the landscapes, the culture, and the people.
My tea on the train and tea growing in the back as we glide through the landscape. "To travel is to live" - Hans Christian Andersen.
Sri Lankan food. Every meal has been good. Each and every one!
I have said this about other countries and I find it true for Sri Lanka too. It is an incredibly rich country in so many ways. But Sri Lanka has some rebuilding to do and is currently undergoing a financial crisis. One which the people feel but which is not apparently visible to short term visitors. It seems to me that all the building blocks have been delivered to Sri Lanka but that they have yet to be put together in an optimal way. I haven’t become this passionately invested in a country for a long time. I truly want to see Sri Lanka’s succeed. They deserve it.
Sri Lanka is at times modern, at times traditional. The train personnel had great uniforms.
By this time next week, I hope to be in the Maldives. It’s looking bright for a smooth crossing and I have received a great deal of support from Maldives State Shipping from the CEO of Male Port, and from Maldives Immigration. Behind the scenes we’ve been working on immigration issues as Maldives Immigration, doing their job, were questioning why a non-seafarer was planning to arrive onboard a container ship. These issues have as a few days ago been solved so that the path forward now appears clear. And we are also all set up for a minor celebration at a resort with a few friends, influencers, the CEO of project partner Ross Energy - and his lovely wife. Ultra-wifey too. All arranged and organized by my friend Jessi from Gambit PR. Jessi and I met in Oman (country no. 150) and stayed friends ever since. She’s amazing with PR. Finally, in early June I’ll join Maldives State Shipping back to Sri Lanka and Maersk from there back to Denmark for a then completed project. Fingers and toes crossed everyone. We’re about to tie a bow on the impossible. All possible due to the cooperation of tens of thousands of strangers turned friends all over the world. Thank you.
There are days where I wonder how much my mind can take and how come I have not broken down with stress so far. The workload has been enormous for many years and the environment has rarely been healthy. People have long wanted to know if I was going to fly back home from the Maldives (final country) or if I was going to travel home over land and sea? Until recently I have not known the answer to that question myself. In 2020 something near impossible became impossible for a while. Since 2022 it has for the most part been an uphill battle in which I have been clawing my way from one country to the next. But on March 28th 2023 I received an unexpected email from Dubai. It was sent by Mr. Mukesh at Maersk in Dubai, UAE. The first line read: “We are happy to inform that we have the necessary approvals in place for your journey from Singapore-Colombo (MSK fleet), Colombo-Maldives-Colombo (MSS Fleet) & Colombo- Mediterranean (MSK fleet)”. That sentence changed my entire mindset! From one moment to next the path ahead was clear. Not only to the final country in the world…but All The Way home.
Crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia.
I love Singapore! I love Hong Kong even more but I haven’t seen Hong Kong for a while. A week ago I woke up in Singapore having had about 2.5 hours of sleep, packed my duffel bag as I have done it thousands of times, and made my way down to the transport which Maersk Singapore had arranged for me. I was obviously sleep deprived and my energy levels were low. It had been a busy week and while I truly enjoy the speaking engagements, they leave me drained afterwards. The transfer was to take me through Tuas Checkpoint and across the Second Link Bridge to Malaysia. The good ship Maersk Gironde was departing from Tanjung Pelepas the same day and I had to meet immigration at 11:00am. It was a very easy border crossing. I did not even need to get out of the car. The driver dropped me off at Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Maersk in Singapore quickly arranged for one of their Malaysian colleagues to escort me to Maersk’s port office: where I was given lots of coffee!! :) They even treated me to a meal. Around 11:00am Mr. Hisyam, the agent, showed up to bring me through immigration and customs. I had hoped I would have had a chance to visit Joergen at the Danish Seamen’s Club at the port…but I was barely alive. Once I joined the good ship I was shown to my cabin and told to wait for my familiarisation of the ship. I waited, and waited, and waited…then 3rd officer Kumar called me and we went through the familiarisation. I returned to my cabin and passed out for a few hours. That evening I still had a podcast interview with Philippines Global Explorers (PGE). The interview ran late and we finished after we had set out to sea as my 4g simcard generated internet went from four bars, to three, to two, to one…
Sleeping safely in my cabin knowing that the seafarers are professionals and that we are heading in the right direction. Hang on a sec! Who took the photo??
Navigating through the busy Malacca Strait.
We left Tanjung Pelepas on the evening of May 5th. The same day as the Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced the global health emergency of Covid-19 over. I really enjoyed be back onboard with Maersk! I’m Danish. They are Danish. That is already a special connection. The last time we we’re onboard with Maersk was from Salalah to Port Said back in September 2018 when we joined Gjertrud Maersk. It was Maersk that connected us with Pacific International Lines (PIL) and Swire Shipping. So, while we haven’t sailed with Maersk for years they have helped facilitate. The good ship Maersk Gironde was delivered in 2002 which made her 21-years of age. She was built well at a shipyard in Korea. Captain Rushan Athachy is Sri Lankan and who would be more fitting to take us to Sri Lanka? He had his wife and two lovely children onboard with him. Most of the crew was from India and our Chief Engineer was from Saint Peterburg, Russia. There’s kind of an elephant in the room these days when I meet Russians. Our Chief Engineer was however really nice and we completely avoided speaking about that elephant. Sometimes it’s good to keep conversations on a human level.
Onboard with Captain Rushan Athachy - my Sri Lankan captain :)
I had some visa issues I needed to deal with but fortunately Maersk provided unlimited internet to the entire crew. The speeds were even okay most of the time. Sometimes you get interference from weather or the ship reaches an area with low satellite coverage. I could mostly download a 12-14mB news podcast in a few minutes. The internet came in handy to solve the visa issues. I had applied for a tourist visa but it turned out that Sri Lankan immigration was not going to let me into the country from a container ship unless I had a business visa. I applied for the business visa but was informed that I first had to cancel the tourist visa. Somehow this sounds straight forward but it was enormously time consuming. Fortunately, it all worked out.
Back on another treadmill sporting my new mCares t-shirt which was gifted to me by the Maersk team in Singapore.
One day took the next onboard. It was a relatively short voyage of five days. I enjoyed being onboard an older and well-constructed ship. It has its charms. The shipping industry was different two decades ago and so were the ships. We had some heavy rain showers and some lightning and thunder. But the good ship stayed stable and there wasn’t much rolling or pitching to speak of.
When the weather didn't permit for our BBQ/party to take place outside we had it inside. Nothing stops a party onboard. Maersk has strict zero alcohol procedures so the beers were non-alcoholic.
Back when Maersk Gironde first sat out to sea there would have been more Danish seafarers. Most of the Danish signs had been taken down but I managed to spot some, which tell a tale of a time which once was.
In a collaboration with Maersk we did a Q&A. To be continued :)
From Malaysia we made it out the Malacca Strait, south of the Andaman Sea, south of the Bay of Bengal and across the Indian Ocean to the Pearl of the Orient. What a pleasant nickname. I’m grateful to the crew onboard for treating me with much kindness. Maersk Gironde became the 36th container ship I have travelled onboard and as such I may have sailed with around 700 seafarers over the years. They are indeed a special breed.
Fair winds and following seas to the Maersk Gironde Team. It was a pleasure to sail with them.
We reached Colombo late at night on May 9th but I opted to stay another night onboard and disembark on the 10th. The transport picked me up a little after 09:00am and brought me through the Marine Division Customs and later on immigration. I had some waiting time on a chair and could sit and observe my surroundings. The port area was surprisingly green. Effort had clearly been put into arranging flowerpots of various sizes with plants of various sizes all over the port. A nice touch to the otherwise steel and concrete environment of most industrial ports. Before we left the port area, I observed several historical buildings. One of them had the following written in large letters: “ESTE 1854. WALKER SONS & CO.” Sri Lanka is rich in history and culture. Not just the last few hundreds of years but several thousands of years.
Walker Sons & Co. in the back.
That same day I checked into a nice AirBNB apartment two days ahead of Mike Douglas, Salomon TV filmmaker (and friend). He is set to arrive today (Friday). Mike wanted me to buy a few power adapters, I needed to get a simcard, I was hungry and needed a meal, and I wanted to exchange some Singapore dollar into Euro. I had a call with Sam from Maersk’s HQ in Denmark an hour later. Could I accomplish these four things in 60 minutes? Optimistically I thought yes. But that is not the kind of country Sri Lanka is. I only got the simcard (which took 40 minutes) before we had the call. I did manage to secure the power plugs and a meal that day. But the exchange of money was harder than I imagined. Perhaps because of Sri Lankas recent history. In fact, Sri Lanka has gone through quite a few rough patches since at least the mid-80s. You wouldn’t think it once you come and meet the people. They are humble, kind, proud (with good reason), smiles come easy, they value beauty, and they love a spicey dish. Sure, some things are a bit slow…but perhaps the rest of the world is moving too fast anyway. I’m sure I can exchange the money – but not on any streetcorner. I just need to make my way to an exchange and that is quickly done by ordering a tuk-tuk through Uber. That same day Maersk’s Country Manager for Sri Lanka, Mr. Nikhil D’Lima, had invited me to speak at the office before some 30-energetic employees. We had a good time and afterwards six of us headed out for dinner at Nuga Gama which had an extraordinary setting and some delicious traditional Sri Lankan dishes. I was warned about how spicy Sri Lankan food can be and have been working my way up to it for months so I did okay :)
Don't ask me what all of this was called. But it was uhm good!!
The evening ended with a videocall with ultra-wifey. Good to see her face and hear her voice again. Well, the evening didn’t actually end there. Because during the evening I had been notified that immigration in the Maldives had reservations regarding my planned arrival onboard Maldives State Shipping’s (MSS) good ship MSS Graphene. It never seems to get any easier – does it? Well, I have met many good people over the years so I reached out to my friend Mr. Steve Felder and to Mr. Freddy Svane, the Ambassador to the Royal Danish Embassy in Delhi, India. They both supplied me with contacts in Maldives and I began working on a solution. It was another late night.
Welcome to our penultimate country. The Lotus tower in the back is quickly becoming an iconic building in Colombo.
Thank goodness for Rasmus! He’s the son of Ross Energy CEO Lars Andersen. Rasmus is helping out with social media and replying or reacting to comments on facebook and Instagram which has been going bonkers since we reached Tuvalu in January. The traffic is overwhelming and while I still create the content, I mostly leave the comments to Rasmus who’s obviously doing an amazing job. He’s a lot more polite, kind, and has more patience than me. Good on you Rasmus!! Keep it up. Ross Energy has been backing the Saga since day one and I look forward to high-fiving everyone back home later this year. The Saga wouldn’t have made it far without support. Support from the project partners as well as from all the kind people I have encountered along the way.
Thursday came and I met up with the Sri Lanka Red Cross which much like Sri Lanka became the penultimate country, then became the penultimate National Society. Are you familiar with the movie Groundhog Day? It’s a 1993 fantasy comedy featuring Bill Murray as the protagonist who becomes trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly. He end’s up reliving the same day for more almost 34-years. I could write a thick book about all the amazing work which is carried out by the Red Cross Red Crescent. Having said that, to keep meeting with the movement in one country after the next across more than 190 countries is my Groundhog Day. While the staff and volunteers are having the meeting for the first time, it is something I have repeated nearly 200 times. I suppose 10 times would have been a lot. It is with great pleasure I can now tell you that the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC) is beyond impressive!! Their commitment and passion shines through and their engagement across the nation is mindboggling. Sri Lanka has had armed conflict over the years and is subject to tsunamis. How does SLRC respond to that? They have helped to build over 25,000 houses!! More about them later. SLRC really do seem to live up to this year’s RC hashtag #FromTheHeart.
Lots of heart amongst these people.
And that brings us to where we are now. Yesterday marked 3,500 days within the Saga. It is just a number. But numbers tend to matter. We have managed to accomplish a lot within that number. Thank you for all of your support. The number will keep growing but hopefully not for much longer. I asked on twitter when the Saga would be completed: by reaching the Maldives or returning home to Denmark? 26% voted for the Maldives and 74% for Denmark. There was one comment which read: “The project is a success in the Maldives and complete in Denmark”. Good one! That comment came from Mr. Mike Douglas :)
On the rooftop with the Maersk team in Colombo. My 54th Maersk presentation. We always take a serious and a silly photo. Guess which one this is? ;)